The Bulls closed the 2015-16 season with spirit and a fierce comeback for a 115-105 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
It was the sort of posture that may have served them well more often this season and perhaps will serve as some motivation going into next season.
Nikola Mirotic had 32 points with seven of 11 three pointers and Justin Holiday added a career high 29 points. Doug McDermott had 16 and Tony Snell 13. Jimmy Butler finished with his second triple double of his career with 10 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds.
So the Bulls close the disappointing regular season with a 42-40 record, but two games short of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. It is the first time for the Bulls out of the playoffs since the 2007-08 season.
That would signal changes in the offseason, which will begin with the draft and the team’s first time in the lottery since selecting Derrick Rose in 2008. Though the Bulls did trade for McDermott from the 2014 lottery. The Bulls have major free agents in Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol and decisions to make on how to employ their top players after a disappointing and unsuccessful season that was overwhelmed by injuries to Noah, Butler, Gibson and Dunleavy and illness that kept Mirotic out six weeks. It was a star crossed season for a team of current and former All-Stars whom national analysts expected to be a serious playoff contender and possible threat to top rated Cleveland in the East.
The 76ers finished 10-72, one game better than their NBA record worst 9-73 season in 1972-73.
The Bulls were without Gasol, Rose, Dunleavy, Gibson, E’Twaun Moore, Cameron Bairstow and Noah for the final game of the season. It seemed so as the 76ers jumped on the Bulls after the Bulls trailed 12-11 seven minutes into the game. The 76ers made five of eight three pointers in the first quarter as they went from one ahead to 21-11 in less than 90 seconds and led 32-16 after the first quarter. The Bulls were six of 24 shooting in the first quarter and outscored 7-0 on second chance points.
The 76ers increased their lead to 42-18 early in the second quarter when a Butler turnover turned into a Robert Covington three pointer. He had a team high 27 points in the game. The Bulls cut the deficit to 47-31 as McDermott was three of three. But the 76ers began to pull away again on Covington’s shooting for a 60-39 lead. Mirotic answered with a third three and 14 first half points and a pair of Justin Holiday hustle plays to end the half brought the Bulls within 60-51 at halftime. Holiday had 13 points.
The Bulls then opened the second half with seven straight points, the run sending the 76ers into a timeout on a Butler dunk on a Holiday pass to cut the 76ers lead to 60-58 with 10:25 in the third quarter. Holiday then tied it on a three with 9:38 left. Tony Snell’s three gave the Bulls their first lead since 9-8 as the Bulls were finishing up a 29-2 run over 6:19 to make it 68-62 Bulls. Holiday went on to get his career high in the third quarter with his fifth three pointer as the Bulls went on to lead 86-73 going into the fourth quarter. The 76ers made one last run to get within 104-97, but Mirotic and McDermott made jumpers to avoid too much nervousness and end the season with a victory.